“There is ample empirical evidence that a lack of love can harm a child’s psychological, cognitive, social, and physical development. Given this, parents are obligated to seek to foster the development of the capacities for engaging in close and loving personal relationships in their children.”
–Michael W. Austin
Laws To Enforce Parental Duties
In loco parentis is legal Latin term meaning “in the place of a parent”. It is used in cases in which a parent or parents are unable or unwilling to adequately perform their parental duties, making it necessary for someone else to assume those rights and responsibilities. Most developed countries have laws in place that define parental duties.
In the U.K. parental duties include providing a home and protecting and maintaining the child. Other parental duties are providing discipline, education, and necessary medical treatment. In Australia, parental duties include financial support, education, and medical care. Parental rights include the right to choose the form of a child’s education and the right to discipline them.
In the U.S., in addition to legal provisions regarding the health, safety, and education of children, additional parental responsibility laws outlining the extent to which parents are held financially responsible for the actions of their children have been enacted in each of the 50 states. States have also established criminal sanctions to be imposed against parents who abuse, neglect, abandon, or fail to financially support their children. In China, in addition to having laws that specify the rights of children, a law was recently passed that requires adult children to care for their elderly parents.
In most societies, parents are also expected to model behaviors that reflect at least the minimum standard of social behavior expected by their citizens. In 1903, Colorado became the first state to establish laws that imposed legal sanctions on behavior by parents that could be considered contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Such laws have now been adopted by 42 other states.
The difficulty of controlling the behavior of parents without violating their rights to parent according to their personal beliefs has resulted in a number of Supreme Court cases in which the states have been forbidden to restrict parental authority. However, an increasing number of laws have been passed to increase parental accountability. For example, a community passed an ordinance which allowed parents to be charged with the crime of “failing to supervise a minor”. The mayor of the community reported a 44.5% decrease in juvenile crime and increased parental involvement as a result.
Most people would agree that ideally, parental duties should exceed the minimum level of care required by law, and that some parental duties are moral rather than legal. In addition to physical safety, parents also provide emotional safety in the form of unconditional love and acceptance. Many parents believe that they have a responsibility to provide their children with a religious or spiritual and moral education as well as an academic one.
The number of articles and books that have been written by child “experts” which outline parental duties are almost as numerous as the number of suggestions offered for how best to carry them out. Most parents want the best for their children, yet there is a wide range of definitions as to what constitutes the best. One parent may believe that helping their child with homework is both their parental duty and the right thing to do, while another may believe that their duty is to teach their child the value of independent study.
As human beings, parents and children alike have their own unique personalities and interests. They also have their own strengths to develop and weaknesses to overcome with the help of one another and the larger community. Philosophers have long pondered the question of what constitutes the full range of parental rights and responsibilities, both in terms of what is best for children and what is best for the future of humanity as a whole. Ironically, one of the most important parental duties, that of loving a child, cannot be legislated.